We have so many wonderful things that make us special as a distillery, from our genetically diverse heritage grain to our pioneering, carbon footprint-conscious approach to farming. But one of our most treasured eccentricities is undeniably our team. A key player in our success is Charlie Echlin, our Head of Whisky. Gatekeeping has never been our style; we always want to share our combined expertise with our guests wherever possible and so we sat down with Charlie to pick the whisky-coated areas of his brain. Here’s what Charlie had to say.
What made you first decide to get into the alcohol industry and build a career producing spirits?
I think it’s because I’m interested in culture and different cultures. Food and drink are consumable expressions of place and time and the high alcohol content of spirits means they can remain good for a long period of time, so can really express a particular moment. So that cultural aspect combined with the fact that, when consumed in moderation, drinks (like food) can bring people together in a positive way.
What attracted you to The Oxford Artisan Distillery above other distilleries?
The fact that we are quite genuinely doing something different – growing heritage grains and then making whisky from them makes for an extremely rewarding job within whisky. In both a cultural sense as well as in a way that is good for the planet.
What’s the biggest misconception about the production of spirits?
That’s tricky to answer as there are so many spirits and so many misconceptions. The reverence that is placed in some factors rather than others in whisky making is a good example that’s close to home. For example, the misconception that big age statements, only one type of grain and only some places make good whisky. Those are definitely significant variables but there are so many more!
What’s been your favourite release from the distillery so far in your career?
This feels like choosing a favourite child! They’re all different and have their quirks. If pushed, perhaps I’d go for Easy Ryder, our seventh release.
What’s one part of your job people may not realise you do?
Hmmm, perhaps the amount of time I spend in conversation with Chico, our master distiller and John, our head of grain. These conversations are always interesting, creative and keep me close to what we do!
You have a special ability to make any product instantly ‘sellable’ I’ve noticed, is there a knack to that? Drop some knowledge on us.
It sounds cheesy but I think genuinely loving what you do is the most helpful thing for this. Also keeping close to the production, farming and team makes for a really collaborative and genuine understanding of the product.
What does English Whisky mean to you?
In a word: innovation. English Whisky is relatively young and lots of folk, quite understandably, want a definition of what it IS and ISN’T. I think, a bit like craft beer in the West Coast of the US or the world of natural wine, the beauty of English Whisky is our lack of tradition. We can take inspiration from whisky making from all over the world.
Where do you see the whisky we are producing going in the next 5 years?
I hope that a combination of excellent product and substantial provenance will make our whisky grow both nationally and internationally over the next few years. Our project is unique and, if I may say so, great, so we must keep doing what we are doing and let the whisky world know while remaining comfortable in our own skin.
We have a craft cocktail bar on site, do you have a favourite cocktail there?
I hardly get a chance to drink at the bar (get out a small violin) but when I do, I always tend to get a classic; often going for the trinity: Old Fashioned / Manhattan / Sazerac.
If you could invite anyone to the distillery dead or alive to have a Sazerac with, who would it be?
Ah so hard to choose – I think Neil Young would dig our booze, farming and vibe so perhaps Neil. Maybe Jack Kerouac would be fun too (I reckon he liked Rye). Is that too many? One more, why not let’s get Shakespeare to stop on his way from Stratford to London to help come up with some names for batches.
Finally, although some may see this as a blasphemous move, are there any of our whiskies you find lend themselves well to a cocktail?
I really enjoyed our Moscatel de Setubal (Batch 3) in a High-ball – though perhaps that’s not technically a cocktail. “Purple Grain” make a good Manhattan and there’s still some at our bar so let’s go for that.
If you’re like us and all that whisky talk made you thirsty, you can browse our current whisky range here. Or, if it’s knowledge you’re thirsty for then you may be interested in our whisky tours, led by our distillers who grant guests exclusive access to our laboratory. You can find more information about our whisky tours here.